rylee madisonMadison mines some shining nuggets of wordcraft among more solid country fare.

Label: Independent (www.ryleemadison.com)
Time: 11 Tracks / 44 minutes

Madison dives into this very personal project with her soul bared and that’s the way it stays. Her opening words are:
“I make better money than I used to;
Checked off my whole list of to do’s;
I dropped all my bad habits and that extra ten pounds…”

And having grabbed our attention, she continues:
“… I wish.
Every day the whole world eats a big meal;
Helping one another ain’t a big deal;
I wave my magic wand and all the suffering is gone… I wish.”

This song – along with “Plenty of Angels” and “Salt in the Air” – reminds me of Bruce Carroll in the timbre of her new country music and its earthed and faith-based look at real life. Having shown us her faults and aspirations, as the album progresses she also adds lessons learnt from life so far, such as the importance of being yourself.

Unfortunately, a lot of the middle ground of this collection, though solid, lacks variety and a few memorable tunes. Whether or not it is coincidence, the strongest of the central tracks are two collaborations. The reflective “Where Does the Time Go?” features the Nashville band Due West, while Dave Gunning and Troy McGillivray join her for another highly personal track, “Salt in the Air,” where the emotion of returning home to Nova Scotia bleeds through. Its Celtic tinge starts a run of the best songs.

These strongest final tracks come from her recent experience. She says in the liner notes that over the last five years, “I’ve loved, I’ve lost, I’ve fallen in love all over again and walked away from the only life I’ve ever known to marry the only man I knew was meant for me.”

“The Beauty of Forgiveness” is a truth-filled song that must have sprung from that losing in love, but it only tells half the story. Follow-up “Run” is almost a celebration of alimony as Madison employs her best wordplay on the title to have a few digs at her ex. It is essential catharsis for aggrieved women everywhere and a witty piece in both senses of the word. Completing the trilogy of lost-love songs is “December Leave Me Alone,” which expresses the pain of a lonely Christmas.

Madison has a strong team around her and the backing vocals work well, when used. Her voice is strong and carries the emotion of these self-penned songs. But it is a voice that needs variety underneath it, if the songs are not to be a little flat. So it is frustrating that the memorable “Plenty of Angels” re-appears as a bonus track with David Huff duetting. The collection would have been stronger of this duet were the standard album cut and there were no bonus version. Its variety of tone would have broken the more tired slab of songs in the middle.

Those who love country music above other genres will be able to cope with the lack of variety and find much to enjoy here, as will anyone who looks for evident songcraft; but its crossover appeal only lasts for a few tracks.

Derek Walker
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